I’m not angry, Bethesda, I’m just disappointed. Bitterly, thoroughly disappointed. When I look at Fallout 4, I see a game that could’ve been great if they’d put a bit more thought into the design and spent a couple more years in development. As it stands, however, Fallout 4 is basically a streamlined version of Fallout 3 with a better world, slightly better graphics, a worse story and cardboard characters. And for the love of all that glows, Bethesda, can you use a new engine already? The amount of bugs in this game was utterly obscene. I’m being harsh because I care, Bethesda, I didn’t hate Fallout 4, and a lot of these problems are fixable with post-release patching, though sadly your writing isn’t. After having spent a fair bit of time with Fallout 4, I’m confident in saying that this was absolutely the weakest entry of the series, and often skirts close to being outright bad.
“A fair bit of time.”
Fallout 4 takes place in the Commonwealth, formerly the Commonwealth of Massachusetts before the Great War, and places you in the role of the sole survivor of Vault 111. Cryogenically frozen at the beginning of the war, you’ve awoken and are now searching for your family and the pieces of the life you lost. Straight off the bat, I’m just going to say that the world of the Commonwealth is awesome but the characters that inhabit it suck like an atomic powered vacuum, especially you. It’s pretty clear that writing was a low priority on the development schedule because there’s precious little to be enjoyed. There were some occasional moments of brilliant dialogue, but they were often fleeting and rarely part of the main story.
The player character is now voiced, a first for the series and a change that I was right to be wary of when it was announced. In having your lines spoken, it often feels like your personality has been largely chosen for you and, whether male or female, that personality is one of a robot trying desperately to human. This lack of imaginative writing extends to the NPC’s, who feel like they’ve stepped straight out of 2008 with their repeating dialogue and endless kill quests. It was so frustrating speaking to a person whose settlement I’d rescued countless times, only to be greeted with “Are you with the Minutemen?” every time, as though they didn’t know who I was.
“You forgot my name didn’t you? Just say it, asshole, and let’s get on with rescuing you from Raiders again.”
Speaking of dialogue, speech options have now been reduced to four options on a conversation wheel, which 90% of the time are reduced to “Yes,” “No,” “Sarcasm,” or “I hate you.” Aside from that last one, those options are literally how they’re presented on-screen, and the last one is simply a reflection of how extreme these reactions can be. Both the male and female player characters only have one default voice each as well, which makes your dialogue choices feel disjointed from one another as though you’re constantly flipping back and forth between personality extremes. Expressing approval and expressing discontent can often be the difference between, “I love the people of the Wasteland!” and “Let’s murder them with their children’s’ bones!” If there had been a range of voices to choose from that played to particular personalities, this might have actually worked. As it is, I felt like I was roleplaying a violent, emotionally unstable schizophrenic at all times.
Roleplaying is also a tricky business in Fallout 4 and can often require extensive use of your imagination. Since S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats can be increased with each level (yes, I’ll.. get to that in a minute), a lot of the stat based character traits are missing from dialogue or gameplay. In a lot of cases, what might have been stat based behaviors from previous games have been poorly substituted for level perks. For instance, you can’t be a big, dumb dummy anymore by putting your INT to 1 or 2, since doing so doesn’t have any noticeable effect on your dialogue. You can, however, take the Idiot Savant perk, which still doesn’t change your dialogue options but does confer random XP bonuses while… Making your character giggle and squeal.
I mean, I find it funny, but I’m the kind of dick that would.
The story of Fallout 4 is where things truly started to fall apart for me as I played. I went through the Minutemen questline, and I’d like to be able to comment on one of the other main questlines as well, but my first playthrough completely bugged out. One of the main quests just couldn’t be completed because the settlement building mechanic refused to co-operate (apparently a common issue for many) and I couldn’t complete the game. Of course, I started over and played through it again not wanting to leave it unfinished before writing this review and it occurred to me that the questline is pretty dull. You don’t really do a whole lot that deviates outside of casual exploration, and in the end it feels like you go from accomplishing very little to saving the world in a sudden, jarring leap. Regardless of the questline you choose, there’s never a consistent “Main” questline that you can always follow. You’re constantly shifted from location to location, chasing threads of other stories to figure out the main storyline and not in a good way.
It really killed a lot of the impact that each major narrative point had because it felt like I was just being dragged to the next deus ex machina instead of having my choices unfold the story. Your PipBoy ends up filled with pointless quests that you’ll likely never pursue and the reasons connecting them all feels tenuous at best. At one point in the game, I just had to abandon the Minutemen to go off and do something totally unrelated to keep the game progressing, and you know what? I wish I hadn’t wasted my time. While I won’t reveal what does happen during the ending, I can say what it doesn’t, and that’s any mention of the impact my actions had on the world while I played. Yes, yes the staple ending style of Fallout was removed, and not even a decent equivalent was put in its place because not only did it not reflect my decisions, it barely reflected the main story.
“Pow! Pow! You’re dead, Paddy’s expectations! Take that his hopes and dreams!”
The gameplay of Fallout 4 is where things start to pick back up, but even then there are a lot of issues. For starters, there’s a lot more action than RPG and Fallout 4 continues to distance the series from its roots so much that it’s now basically a “shooter with RPG elements.” Instead of Perks, Traits and Skills, there are now just Perks, and you receive one perk point per level, with each perk having multiple levels based on the number of points stacked. I’m in two minds about this system because it does encourage and reward careful planning and thought about how your character will progress. On the other hand, the system is fairly rigid, and character progress can be quite slow, with the bulk of major improvement not becoming apparent until later in the game.
Combat has certainly improved, enemies are smarter, tougher, and behave like you’d expect enemies of their type to act. Pack creatures like Molerats, Mirelurks, and Wasteland Mongrels, among others, often travel in packs now as animals of their kind would. There are legendary enemies that are significantly stronger than their regular counterparts, mutating and becoming more powerful when low on health, and dropping rare loot upon death. Armor now either comes in full outfits or separate parts that you piece together to form a set, which you can also upgrade and modify separately. This level of modification also extends to the weapons and power armor, with an extensive range of mods and upgrades available for both. You can even rename all this stuff to add that personal touch to your arsenal.
I usually liked to keep things simple.
The aforementioned rigidity of the perk system means that there really can be “wrong” decisions when leveling your character, at least regarding increasing difficulty. This is exacerbated by design choices that feel like arbitrary decisions to limit play performance or moments where the developers just weren’t thinking hard enough. For example, I specialized in pistols and rifles during my first play through but was often running out of ammo because I didn’t put enough points into the scrounge ability. You’d think that being able to create ammo would be an easy thing when you’re able to McGuyver firearms, armor, drugs and explosives out of tin cans, toy cars, and desk fans. But no, ammo is off limits for crafting, and so my deadly gunslinger was left bashing enemies with my guns. Since I didn’t have any of the strength stats either, this meant that I may as well have been stroking enemies lovingly for the amount of damage I was doing.
During my second playthrough, I specialized in Melee, figuring that I’d be able to get around the ammo issue that way, and the power progression of melee is way slower than that of firearms. Melee weapons are often in lower supply than firearms and don’t have as many mods available, meaning that upgrading occurs far less often. Moreover, the lack of frequent, decent upgrades means that you best have a mess of Med-X and Stimpacks on your person because you’re going to be soaking up a LOT of damage until you catch up. Unless of course you want to put some perk points into being able to alt to a pistol or something when things get tough, which kind of defeats the purpose of specializing, doesn’t it?
Everyone can be an overpowered everyman! Or, you know, struggle through playing in a way the game doesn’t want you to!
These oversights in design also extend to one of my favorite parts of the game and arguably the biggest addition to the series: Settlement building. Settlement building in Fallout 4 is a lot of fun, with much of the time you see in that hour count up there was spent running around and scrounging for stuff to pimp out my bases. It’s essentially Fallout: The Sims; you set up a recruitment radio signal, clean the place up, give people a place to sleep, grow crops, find water, get power running and keep everyone happy. Looting has even been made easier by allowing you to simply take objects by looking at a container, instead of having to enter a transfer window. It makes the pack ratting you do while running around much easier and more purposeful, and can make something as simple as returning to base feel very rewarding.
It’s kind of a mood killer when I can’t remove the corpses of my enemies from the base except for slowly dragging them outside the base limits myself. You can’t even do that for the many skeletons that just litter the place, nor can you scrap them like so many other objects around the place. The game is also rather picky and inconsistent about what you can remove from a settlement, no matter how ruined it appears. In fact, settlements remain pretty sad throughout no matter how much work you put into them. Despite making them from recycled and otherwise fresh materials, everything you build or make still looks ruined and dilapidated or decaying buildings never get repaired. While it’s fun to build wasteland junk forts and shanty towns, I never felt like I was repairing the Wasteland, just adding to the mess.
Just let me build a throne from the bones of my enemies, Bethesda, that’s all I ask! I appreciate the indoor Brahmin, however.
None of this is helped by the number of literal game breaking bugs that plague this game. Quick reloading can do anything from spawning you outside the location you were just in, teleporting you into the sky, or causing your enemies to spontaneously expire in front of you. My male player character would occasionally speak with the female PC voice during combat, and my female player character would sometimes stop speaking altogether in conversations. Switching weapons and using hotkeys was woefully unresponsive, sometimes taking up to a minute to switch between weapons before my character eventually brought up an “air gun.” Grass even sticks up through the floor of building that you place down in settlements! I mean, come on Bethesda, you couldn’t even get that right?
This game also has some severe performance issues; even after dropping the game to medium settings (which looks horrific, by the way) the game would still lag when the action picked up. I’d like to comment on how great things looked when I first started the game on high settings, and things did initially look pretty great. It sucks because from what I could make out before the shift in graphical quality and while I was playing, a lot of the enemy and environment redesigns look fantastic. I had to do this just to get the game to run, however, and even then the game randomly crashed on me five times while playing for this review, and strange things would happen with the in-game physics. Things like finding Yao Guai just hanging in the air because they were being smacked about by a Deathclaw, sending them flying at high speed before they’d suddenly halt in grisly suspension.
*hork*Oh God, they’re not moving! THEY’RE NOT MO–!*hgerk*
Fallout 4 is essentially a great framework with a lot of good ideas, but suffers from poor execution. There are a lot of great systems, but none of them are explained very well, or sometimes at all, and are put together without much thought as to how they’ll affect one another. The story is all over the place, which reduces the impact of some of its most powerful moments. In the interest of giving the player character a voice, they’ve removed a lot of the role playing and forced players into having a very narrow choice of personalities, which are themselves very bland and basic. Combat, world exploration, and land settling are all fun and clearly received a lot of attention during design. But in saying that, each of these components still suffer from a lot of basic oversights that noticeably subtract from the experience. And the bugs, oh the bugs… Bethesda, listen, when you get onto making the New Vegas style spin off in a few years, please learn to play nice with Obsidian and let them handle the writing and just focus on the gameplay, okay? In the meantime, I guess the modding community will fix this for you. Again.